NCDENR gives update on toxic coal ash spill

by: Sarah Rosario Updated:

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RALEIGH - The federal investigation into North Carolina's toxic coal ash spill is now expanding to all coal ash ponds throughout the state- and even state employees.

Damage from the spill into the Dan River is still unfolding more than two weeks after it was first reported.

Today Eyewitness News learned the state's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources is now a big part of the investigation, which will include 14 Duke power plants and 32 coal ash ponds, four of which are in our area.

In a press conference today state officials wouldn't comment on the federal investigation, they would only talk about how it’s handled the spill and what it’s doing to clean it up.

The State's Department of Environment and Natural Resources was served 20 federal subpoenas because of the coal ash spill in the Dan River near the Virginia border.

The new subpoenas ask to see how DENR regulated Duke's coal ash dumps before it happened.   

"I can't comment on federal subpoenas," said Drew Elliott, with NCDENR.

The subpoenas asked for documents related to all 14 of Duke's active and retired coal fired plants.
It also asked for records of communications, payments, gifts and contracts between DENR officials and Duke, its subsidiary.

"I have no history of a relationship with Duke,"  said NCDENR secretary John Skvarla.   

Two of Duke's coal ash ponds are on Mountain Island Lake, which is the water supply for Charlotte and Gaston County.

The other local ponds are on Lake Norman and near the Catawba River in Belmont.

The pond’s proximity to Charlotte's water supply have many concerned about the heavy metals found in coal ash, including lead, arsenic and mercury.

Just two weeks ago Eyewitness News spoke with protestors outside Duke Headquarters as they held signs warning about the potential health problems of coal ash ponds.  

In a press conference today state leaders were asked why they can't get rid of the ponds altogether. Leaders said it’s because there's a scientific dispute about what to do with the sites. They also said it will take time to investigate.

"If you just say, OK, Duke, go dig these things up.” We really don't have the regulatory authority right now, because they're afforded certain due process of determining what the threat is," said Tom Reeder,  with the NC division of Water Resources

The state must provide all of the documents requested for a grand jury that will meet next month.

Duke takes responsibility for the Dan River spill and says it will pay to clean it up. No word yet on what that will cost.

On Tuesday state regulators said a second stormwater pipe at the company's plant was leaking elevated levels of arsenic into the Dan River.

State officials ordered duke to stop the wastewater coming from the pipe. They’re worried the second pipe could fail, triggering a second spill.